Lion Feuchtwanger was a prolific and internationally famous German-Jewish writer. His exhaustively researched historical novels (or plays) often dealt with themes from Jewish history. In Munich, he had an orthodox Jewish education, mastering Hebrew at an early age. Later studies included Greek and Latin. He went on to espouse ‘cosmopolitanism’ and Communism. Leaving Berlin for the South of France in 1933, he reached Southern California and settled there in 1941. His extensive library included a notable collection of early modern printed editions and translations of Josephus.
Feuchtwanger used the historical novel to cast light on contemporary issues. Among his alienated or part-assimilated subjects, none was explored as thoroughly as Josephus, in a biographical trilogy completed in California, with the separate volumes appearing almost simultaneously in German and in the English translations by Willa and Edwin Muir. Josephus is presented as a character who undergoes major development, a Jew in a Gentile world, wrestling with his conscience and moving from an initial embrace of assimilation and a ‘cosmopolitan’ outlook, to a conflicted ambivalence about Judaism, and then through a preoccupation with Jewish values, to final disillusionment and a Messianic, bravely anti-Roman stance. The drama is played out in part through the widely divergent attitudes of the sons of Josephus (by different wives) and his involvement with them. Four poetic ‘Psalms’, distributed across the three volumes, crystallize the historian’s shifts in attitude: Psalm of the World Citizen, Psalm of the Self, Psalm of the Three Parables, and Psalm of Courage.
The first volume of Feuchtwanger’s Josephus trilogy formed the basis for a play staged by the Yiddish Art Theater in New York 1933.
Lion Feuchtwanger’s Josephus trilogy in German:
Der jüdische Krieg. Roman. Berlin, 1932; Amsterdam, 1933.
Die Söhne. Roman. Amsterdam, 1935.
Der Tag wird kommen. Stockholm, 1945.
Lion Feuchtwanger’s Josephus trilogy in English (trans. Willa and Edwin Muir):
Josephus: A Historical Romance. London; New York, 1932.
The Jew of Rome. London, 1935; New York, 1936.
The Day Will Come. London, 1942; Josephus and the Emperor. New York, 1942.
Bloom, J., ‘Psalm of the World Citizen: Alienation, Assimilation, and Zionism in Feuchtwanger’s Josephus Trilogy’ (published online).
Bunzel, A., La trilogie de Josèphe, de Lion Feuchtwanger: Histoire et écriture romanesque. Montpellier, 2007.
Jahn, W., Die Geschichtsauffassung Lion Feuchtwangers in seiner Josephus-Trilogie. Rudolstadt, 1954.
Reischl, D., Gegenwart im historischen Roma: zur Funktion der Figurenkonstellationen in Lion Feuchtwangers Josephus-Trilogie. Regensburg, 1997.
Spalek, J.M. ed., Lion Feuchtwanger: The Man, His Ideas, His work. Los Angeles, 1972.
See also: http://libguides.usc.edu/feuchtwanger (Feuchtwanger Memorial Library and Archive)
JRA contributed by Jim Bloom and Tessa Rajak